08 May 2010

I Love Trains

I love trains. At the Oak Park stop on the CTA’s Green Line, my tense, concave shoulders, sheltering my chest from the winter’s wind, have surrendered and fallen as a westbound BNSF freight train rushed by behind my back and an eastbound CTA train trudged up in front of me. I love intracity public transportation systems like the Chicago Transit Authority and Washington’s Metrorail as well as international passenger service like Thalys. At around 6:45 every weekday morning, my it’s-way-too-early scowl relaxes into a low-key, that’s-nice grin as the northwest-bound Metra commuter train from the Loop and the southeast-bound Metra train from the suburbs glide pass each other and stop at the Irving Park station while, across the six southbound lanes of the Kennedy Expressway, the southeast-bound CTA train clatters in front of me at the Irving Park stop on the Blue Line.

The longest train ride I have taken was from London, England to Vienna, Austria. Since this was before the Channel Tunnel opened, British Rail took me to Folkestone, a ferry bounced me across the English Channel, and a French train took me across continental Europe. While I was in the same couchette in the same wagon for the entire journey from Calais, other wagons were hooked up to and uncoupled from the train as it stopped in different cities in different countries along the route. I remember the train pulled into Vienna only 15 minutes behind the scheduled arrival time.

I think the fastest train I have been on went from Toijala, Finland to Helsinki at 140 kilometers an hour, or 90 miles an hour – or was it 240 kilometers an hour, which is 150 miles an hour? A long, long time ago, I took a TGV from Paris to Avignon. I don’t know how fast it went, but I think it went faster than 90 miles an hour. It had much more ground to cover and fewer stops to make. I know the VR train to Helsinki went 140 (or was it 240?) km/h because I watched the nifty digital indicator in the wagon rise as we left a station and fall as we approached the next one. (It was more than a year ago.) The crazy thing about both of these high speed train experiences was that I never felt, sitting in my seat, like I was going really, really fast.

The most storied trains I have ridden on are the Flying Scotsman, from London’s King Cross station to Edinburgh’s Waverley station, and the City of New Orleans, albeit just from Champaign’s Illinois Terminal to Chicago’s Union Station and vice versa. One time, to get back to Champaign from Chicago, I had to book a roomette, which was more like a “clos-ette.” Supper was included in the price, though, and it is the only time I have sat down to a meal in an Amtrak dining car. The most famous train I have seen is the rusting, steam locomotive (below) that appears in the 2008 Estonian film Detsembrikuumus (December Heat). Scenes in and outside the Tallinn train station in the movie were actually shot in Tapa.

Trains are a part of flying, there beyond the moving sidewalks to whisk you away to the heart of the city in disparate articulations of comfort and class. The CTA’s Orange Line waits across the street from Midway Airport while the Blue Line idles underneath O’Hare. Metrolink originates from Lambert Field in St. Louis. BART stops at the San Francisco International Airport and the METRO stops at Ronald Regan Airport in Washington, D.C. The Tube’s Piccadilly line brings Heathrow passengers to the hustle and bustle of London’s Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. Thalys service north to Amsterdam or south to Brussels, is just underneath Schiphol Airport.

In the early 2000s, after I had returned from the Peace Corps, I met three Estonian friends in London. They had to land at Gatwick, and I had to land at Heathrow. Well, my flight from O’Hare had alleged air conditioning problems, so we had to land at LaGuardia, escorted down the runway by an unexpectedly long line of emergency vehicles, and deplane and wait and wait and wait for another aircraft. I still made it to Heathrow before my Estonian friends, but I wanted to get to Gatwick before they landed, as we had planned. I took the Piccadilly line to Green Park and then the Victoria line to Victoria and got a Gatwick Express train to the airport. I think we all got to the Arrivals Hall at the same time. By the way, we took a bus from Gatwick back to Victoria, which was less expensive than the train but an ungodly long trip in London traffic.

Living in Estonia gave me a fantastic opportunity to ride a lot of trains (because that’s what people in Europe do). When I was first in Estonia, from 1998 to 2000, I took the train from Tapa to Valga, got off the train, walked down the platform through passport control and into Valka, Latvia, literally, continuing on down the platform to board the train to Riga. The restrooms in the Riga train station were notorious: two opposing shoeprints on either side of a hole for males to stand over and females to squat over. When I returned to Estonia in 2006, there was daily service to Valga only. In December 2007, when Schengen went into effect for the Baltics, you could walk freely between Valga and Valka, but there was no Latvian train service to Riga. In 2008, I believe, train service from Valka to Riga resumed, but I bet you still have to pee in a hole at Riga’s train station.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I also took an overnight train from Tapa (being the famous junction of Estonia’s southern and eastern routes) to Narva to St. Petersburg, Russia.
Wait, there's more coming....

23 January 2010

A Difference of 24 hours and 6,000 Miles Redux

Two back porches, three weeks into the month of January 2010, one porch in Rakvere, Estonia (where temperatures have been below zero Fahrenheit), the other in Springfield, Illinois (with temperatures in the 30s Fahrenheit).

22 January 2010

Meet My Great, Great Grandfather from Ireland

I know my father is Robert J. (1934-), my grandfather is Joseph H. (1908-1985), and my great grandfather is Frank J. (1859-1918). I think my great, great grandfather is John Hogan (1830?-1874?).

As the entries from the 1870 U.S. Census show, John was married to Jane nee Bartley (1830?-1904) and had four children: Mary, Frank J. (my great grandfather), John, and Nellie. Both John and Jane were reportedly born in Ireland; all four children were reportedly born in Illinois. From at least 1875, they lived at 1603 East Adams Street in Springfield.

According to the 1870 census, John was a day laborer. It appears that he died sometime before 1875, since Jane is listed as a widow in the 1875 Springfield Directory. Their daughter Mary was a dressmaker, son Frank (my great grandfather) a laborer, and son John a lamplighter, according to the directory. In 1900, Jane still lived on East Adams with Frank, who was an engineer for the Capital Coal Company, and Nellie, who was a millner for A.V. Young.

19 January 2010

Pointless Violence, Shameless Voyeurism

(Scroll down for the Estonian version.)
My pasty fingers were trembling as my flight from Stockholm approached O’Hare International Airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I feared that my luggage would be sniffed by a tenacious German shepherd and searched by a stoic U.S. customs agent who played rugby on the weekends. I worried that I would walk out of the airport and collapse on the concrete pavement in front of a python of Yellow Cabs as my lungs filled with the suffocating humidity of one of Illinois’ infamous dog days of August. Accustomed to the chug-chug of the passenger train to Tallinn and the putt-putt of the bus to Rakvere, I feared I would have to ride through six lanes of traffic on the tollway at 75 mph (121kph) with my eyes closed and my arms cradling my stomach. Last but not least, I was afraid that by the end of the day, my stomach would explode from the mega hamburgers, deluxe pizzas, and super burritos my family would order to welcome me home.

Seven hours after landing at O’Hare, though, I arrived safely in Springfield. Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield from 1837 to 1861, and my parents have lived here since the 1940s. I attended kindergarten, elementary school, high school, and college here. After living in Tapa for three years, I encamped in Springfield to assess my parents’ health; to catch up with my nephews, who were both in high school, and my nieces, who liked playing cards and board games now; and to spend some time with an aunt and an uncle who were dealing with cancer.

From August to December, I worked in Decatur. At 65mph (105kph) on a four-lane highway, Decatur is 35 minutes east of Springfield. I taught three developmental writing classes three days a week to 40 students at Richland Community College, and I tutored individuals in the college’s learning center. While American English requires commas much more often than British English, my Decatur students, many of them in their 20s and 30s, repeatedly made some of the same mistakes my Tapa students made.

During the Christmas and New Year holidays, I hunted for American alligators and searched for Coach purses in Houston with a good friend from high school and her family; scored a career high 172 points during a family Wii bowling tournament at my sister’s house in Petersburg (Illinois); and rode buses and subways from friend to friend, store to store, and bar to bar in Chicago. I decided not to teach at Richland in 2010. So as I write this, I am still living with my aging parents and searching for a full-time job with a nonprofit organization in Chicago.

The first couple of months I was back here in America, sitting in the living room behind the morning newspaper and in front of the nightly television news programs, two things kept slapping me in the face: pointless violence and shameless voyuerism. In September, just 40 minutes northeast of Springfield, in a rural area like Pariisi, a husband, his wife, and their three children were murdered in their home. In October, 20 minutes northwest of Springfield, in a town the size of Haljala, a 74-year-old woman was charged with killing her granddaughter’s husband.

In Springfield, which has only a few thousand more residents than Tartu, there were a total of 12 murders in 2009. In Chicago, there were 458 murders. With nearly 3 million residents, that was just 1.5% of the city’s population. Yet it meant reading “was shot”, “was stabbed”, “was killed”, “was strangled”, “was run over” or “was smothered to death” in the newspaper every day of the year. It meant hearing the stories on the nightly news, too, and, in the case of a 16-year-old high school student, whose fatal beating in September was captured on video, it meant seeing the attack over and over again on a number of Internet sites. Lastly, it meant the wide smile I had displayed ever since I had sailed past the customs agents at O’Hare began to droop.

Even though I felt safe walking around Springfield, driving through Decatur, and riding the subway in Chicago, I was disturbed by the number of murders. I had returned to the wealthiest, most gifted, most generous, most tolerant nation in the world, had I not? How in singular sophistication that constructed the international space station, donated more than $3 billion to charity, and elected an African American President had America preserved its cowboy mentality of the late 1800s? I was also baffled by the motives behind the murders. The Mafia wasn’t silencing snitches in central Illinois; Crips weren’t retaliating against Vice Lords in Chicago. No; a grandma discharged a Glock 17. No; three teenagers repeatedly whacked another boy with a railroad tie. Finally, no matter how mad I had ever been at my students in Tapa or frustrated with my co-workers in Chicago, I was unable to fathom the anger that boiled over and incited toilet-using, potato chip-eating individuals to kill, to kill more than once, to kill people they knew.

Repulsed by these senseless murders, as well as the ones in Fort Hood, Texas and Lakewood, Washington, I was also vexed by America’s interest in other people’s personal lives, particularly Tiger Woods’ and Jon Gosselin’s. One week in August or September, a national, half-hour entertainment news program opened every night with reports on Gosselin’s activities over the previous 24 hours. After three or four banal stories with shots of Gosselin getting out of a car or walking down a sidewalk, I asked my mother why his pending divorce was of national importance. She told me that there had been a reality TV show about him and his wife raising their eight children (a set of twins and a set of sextuplets). I was still confused about why the nation pried into this difficult period in this ordinary family’s life and, fed the details, how we were supposed to respond.

I didn’t understand either why Woods’ fender-bender gripped the attention of America’s news, entertainment, and sports media for more than a week at the end of November. He was not injured, and he had enough money to buy himself a new Cadillac Escalade. He would golf again. Naively, I asked why the story did not end there. My brother-in-law explained to me that the morning of the accident, Woods had been running away from his Swedish wife, who had been chasing him down the driveway with a golf club because she had suspected him of having an extramarital affair. Again, I searched for the reason the eyes of America were transfixed on Woods even though he wasn’t on the golf course, wasn’t even tied for the lead on the final hole of a PGA classic.

Fortunately, my stomach did not explode after I ate a double bacon cheeseburger with onion, tomato, and lettuce from Steak ‘n Shake, one of my parents’ favorite restaurants. A few weeks later, it felt pretty good after three pieces of a cheesy, stuffed, onion, sausage, and green pepper pizza from the Giordano’s just off Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. I did not have indigestion after I ate a bean and cheese-stuffed burrito de pollo asada with rice from Luevo Leon in the city’s Mexican neighborhood. Yet news of a murder, whether it is from Springfield, Illinois or thousands of miles away in Springfield, California, makes me nauseous, and Americans’ obsession with digging for intimate details in the lives of people they do not know upsets my stomach.

Mu kahvatud sõrmed värisesid, kui mu lennuk Stokholmist lähenes O’Hare rahvusvahelisele lennuväljale 15 minutit enne plaanilist saabumisaega. Ma kartsin, et mu pagasit nuusib jonnakas Saksa lambakoer ja seda otsib läbi stoilise rahuga USA tolliametnik, kes mängib nädalavahetustel ragbit. Kartsin, et kõnnin lennujaamast välja ja kukun kokku betoonsillutisel ussina lookleva kollaste taksode rodu ees, kui mu kopsud täitusid lämmatava niiskusega ühel Illinoisi kurikuulsal kuumal augustipäeval. Harjunud Tallinna reisirongi tsuhh-tsuhhi ja Rakvere bussi tavapärase törra-törraga, olin hirmul, et pean sõitma kuuerealises liikluses maksustataval teel 75 miili tunnis (121km/h), silmad suletud ja kätega kõhtu hoides. Mitte vähem oluline oli kartus, et päeva lõpuks mu kõht lõhkeb mega-hamburgeritest, deluxe- pitsadest ja super-burritodest, mida mu pere minu kojusaabumise puhul tellib.

Seitse tundi pärast O’Hare’is maandumist jõudsin siiski õnnelikult Springfieldi. Abraham Lincoln elas Springfieldis aastatel 1837 – 1861 ja mu vanemad on elanud siin alates 1940st. Käisin siin lasteaias, alg- ja keskkoolis ning kolledžis. Pärast kolme aastat Tapal jäin Springfieldi paigale, et hinnata oma vanemate tervislikku seisundit, viia end kurssi oma kahe keskkoolis õppiva õepoja ning kaarte ja lauamänge mängida armastavate õetütarde tegemistega ning veeta aega tädi ja onuga, kes on vähiga kimpus.

Augustist detsembrini töötasin Decaturis, kuhu Kiirusega 65 miili tunnis (105 km/h) neljarealisel kiirteel Springfieldist itta on 35 minuti tee. Õpetasin 40 tudengile Richland Community College’is kolme kirjutamiskursust kolmel päeval ja juhendasin kolledži õpekeskuses tudengeid individuaalset. Kuna ameerika inglise keel nõuab komasid palju sagedami kui briti inglise keel, siis minu Decaturi tudengid, paljud neist 20. ja 30. eluaastates, tegid korduvalt samu vigu, mida minu Tapa õpilased.

Jõulude ajal ja uuel aastal jahtisin Ameerika alligaatoreid ja otsisin Hustonis hea sõbra ja tema perega keskkooli päevilt Coach’i rahakotte, saavutasin karjääri kõrgeima tulemuse 172 punkti pere Wii-keeglivõistlustel õe juures Petersburgis (Illinois); ja sõitsin Chicagos busside ning metrooga sõbra juurest sõbra juurde, kauplusest kauplusesse ja baarist baari. Otsustasin mitte õpetada Richlandis aastal 2010. Nii et kui ma praegu seda kirjutan, elan ikka veel oma vananevate vanematega koos ja otsin täiskohaga tööd mõnes Chicago mittetulundusettevõttes.

Esimesed paar kuud, kui olin siin Ameerikas tagasi ja istusin elutoas hommikust ajalehte lugedes või õhtusi uudiseid televiisorist vaadates, kippusid kaks asja mulle näkku kargama: mõttetu vägivald ja häbitu vuajerism. Septembris tapeti ühes külakeses, suuruselt umbes nagu Pariisi küla, 40 minutit Springfieldist kirdesuunas, oma kodus mees, naine ja nende kolm last. Oktoobris mõisteti umbes Haljala-suuruses asunduses, 20 minutit Springfieldist edelas, 74-aastane naine süüdi oma lapselapse abikaasa tapmises.

Springfieldis, kus on vaid mõned tuhanded rohkem elanikke kui Tartus, oli 2009. aastal kokku 12 tapmist, Chicagos aga 458. See oli 1,5 % linna elanikkonnast, kuna Chicago rahvaarv on kolm miljonit. Ent see tähendas lugeda ajalehest “tulistati”, “pussitati”, “tapeti”, “kägistati”, “jäi auto alla” või “lämmatati surnuks” aasta igal päeval. See tähendas kuulda neidsamu lugusid õhtustes uudistes. 16-aastase keskkooliõpilase juhtumi korral, kus surmatoov peksmine septembris oli võetud videosse, tähendas see näha rünnakut ikka ja jälle mitmetel Interneti-lehekülgedel. Viimaseks tähendas see ka seda, et too lai naeratus, mis oli mu näol, olles möödunud tollitöötajatest O’Hare lennujaamas, hakkas tasapisi haihtuma.

Isegi kui tundsin end turvaliselt kõndides ringi Springfieldis, sõites läbi Decaturi ja reisides metrooga Chicagos, olin häiritud mõrvade arvust. Olin tagasi pöördunud kõige jõukamasse, andekamasse, heldemasse ja tolerantsemasse riiki maailmas, eks ju? Kuidas selline ainulaadne mõttekeerukus, mis konstrueeris rahvusvahelise kosmosejaama, toetas rohkem kui kolme miljardi dollariga heategevust, valis afroameeriklasest presidendi, on säilitanud oma 1800. aastate kauboi-mentaliteedi? Ka mõrvamotiivid ajasid mind segadusse. Maffia ei vaigistanud ülesandmisi Kesk Illinoisis, Crips’id ei maksnud kätte Vice Lords’idele Chicagos. Ei - vanamemm kasutas relva Glock 17. Ei - kolm teismelist peksid korduvalt kaaslast raudteeliipriga. Lõpuks, ükskõik kui pahane ma olin oma õpilaste peale Tapal või kui iganes pettunud oma kaastöötajates Chicagos, olin võimetu aru saama sellest ülevoolavast vihast, mis õhutas tualetti-kasutavaid, kartulikrõpse söövaid indiviide tapma, tapma rohkem kui korra, tapma inimesi, keda nad tundsid.

Tundes vastikust nimetatud mõttetute mõrvade suhtes, samuti ka nende suhtes, mis pandi toime Fort Hoodis, Texases, Lakewoodis ning Washingtonis, valmistas mulle meelehärmi ka Ameerika huvi kaasinimeste isikliku elu vastu, eriti Tiger Woodsi ja Jon Gosselini eraelu vastu. Ühel nädalal augustis või septembris algas riiklik pooletunnine meelelahutus-uudiste programm igal õhtul ülevaatega Gosselini tegemistest eelneva 24 tunni vältel. Pärast kolme
-nelja banaalset lugu kaadritega autost väljuvast või mööda kõnniteed minevast Gosselinist küsisin emalt, miks mehe eelseisev lahutus on riikliku tähtsusega. Ema vastas, et oli näidatud tõsieluprogrammi Gosselinist ja ta naisest kasvatamas oma kaheksat last (kaksikud ja kuuikud). Ma ei saanud endiselt aru, miks rahvas topib uudishimust nina tema tavalise pereelu raskesse perioodi ja söödab ette lahendusi, kuidas me peaksime reageerima.

Ei mõistnud ka seda, miks Woodsi plekimõlkimine köitis Ameerika uudiste, meelelahutuse ja spordimeedia tähelepanu rohkem kui nädala vältel novembri lõpus. Ta ei saanud vigastada ja tal oli piisavalt raha, et osta endale uus Cadillac Escalade. Ta mängib jälle. Naiivselt küsisin, miks lugu sellega ei lõppenud. Mu õemees selgitas mulle, et õnnetuspäeva hommikul põgenes Woods oma rootslannast naise eest, kes oli teda golfikepiga mööda maja juurde viivat sissesõiduteed taga ajanud, kuna kahtlustas, et Woodsil on abieluväline suhe. Taaskord otsisin põhjust, miks Ameerika silmad kinnituvad Woodsil isegi siis, kui ta pole golfiväljakul või teda tabab ebaõnn PGA mängudes.

Õnneks ei läinud mu kõht lõhki pärast kahekordset juustu-peekoniburgerit sibula, tomati ja rohelise salatiga Steak ‘n Shake’ist, ühest mu vanemate lemmikrestoranidest. Mõni nädal hiljem tundus see üsna hea pärast kolme tükki juustumaitselist sibula, vorsti ja rohelise pipraga täidetud pitsat Giordano’st, veidi eemal Chicago Magnificent Mile’ist. Mul polnud seedehäireid pärast ubade ja juustuga täidetud burrito de pollo asada ja riisi söömist Luevo Leon’is, linna Mehhiko-piirkonnas. Ometi olid need mõrvauudised kas Springfieldist Illinoisis või tuhandeid miile kaugemal Springfieldis Californias, mis ajasid mind iiveldama. Ka ameeriklaste kinnisidee kaevata välja intiimseid detaile nendele tundmatute inimeste elust oli miski, mis tekitas mul seedehäireid.

Tõlkija: Anna Kraubner

02 January 2010

3 Years in Estonia in 69 Photos